Strength is a gentle card, drawing from the Abrahamic story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In short, Daniel was arrested for worshipping the god of Abraham. When Daniel was put into the lion’s den, the lions did not harm him. Daniel attributes this to an angel of his god coming and closing the mouths of the lions, as depicted in the Waite-Smith card above.
This isn’t a card like ᚢ (Uruz), even though they both represent strength. Uruz is the brutal strength of a bull, where this card is the strength to gently stroke the beast which would harm you. I am ironically reminded of the gentle warmth of ᚲ (Kenaz): the torch and hearthfire have the potential to cause great destruction, but instead they provide you with light and hot food.
Strength is a specifically feminine card. This is not a card of toxically masculine Strength. This is not a card of lifting heavy things or running really fast or getting punched in the face.
This is a card of gentle strength, the strength of ᛚ (Laguz), the Rune of the river. This is the card of the little stream that, over thousands of years, carves The Grand Canyon. This is a card of patience in a way that isn’t ᛁ (Isa): Isa is being frozen, stopping. There is great strength in moving forward when you cannot see the destination.
The Fool’s Journey
The point in Odin’s journey most closely related to this card is the point when he wrote the first 80 verses or so of the Havamal. The wisdom to keep your mouth shut and listen when people smarter than you are talking, to avoid drinking too much, and to feed and shelter strangers who arrive at your door. There is a lot of lamenting that Odin himself didn’t follow this advice when he was younger, that he had been inhospitable and intemperate, but the wisdom and compassion is there.
Most decks stay with the lion to depict the Strength card. The lion is frequently referred to as king of beasts, and the idea of taming a king is western culture’s ideal of a woman’s strength. Think of the Grimnismal: Odin raised Geirrod, and Frigg raised Agnar. The fact that Odin had failed to tame Geirrod but Frigg had succeeded in taming Agnar was humbling to the Allfather.
Of the decks I own which show a lion, only the Waite-Smith shows the angel wrestling with it. The other decks all show a woman standing next to the lion and looking away from it. She doesn’t need to look at the lion, because the lion is her friend and companion. In these decks, this is a card of ᛖ (Ehwaz), the companion who makes you stronger in a symbiotic relationship.
A minority of Tarot decks choose other animals to tame in the Strength card. A horse (ᛖ (Ehwaz) again!) is one of the simplest, though you will notice that she doesn’t control it with spurs nor bridle in the Sensual Tarot (right). The Darkwood Tarot (center) shows a woman taming a cobra, and The Pagan Tarot (left) shows an initiate surrounded by animals in the forest. The strength is the gentleness, no matter the animal tamed.
You will notice that “Strength” is referred to as “Lust” in the Sensual Tarot (right). This is one of the most renamed cards in the Major Arcana. It can be called Faith, Hope, or Fortitude, which are considered virtues to Christianity. It can also be called Lust or Pride, which Christianity calls vices. And it isn’t just the names: The number sometimes changes as well. In some decks, Strength is number 11 and Justice is number 8.